For ecommerce businesses, the returns process is an important part of the buyer’s journey that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Depending on the industry, anywhere up to 30% of ecommerce products are returned on average. The rate is nearly double that of in-store purchases, largely due to the fact that ecommerce shoppers lack the opportunity to try on products or see them face-to-face before making a purchasing decision. So in many cases, a product return doesn’t mean that a customer doesn’t like your brand — the specific product just wasn’t the right fit for them.

In order to keep customer satisfaction high among shoppers who return products, it’s important to look at ways to streamline your returns process through automation. Automated returns can help you deliver a better customer experience while driving business efficiencies, and can make it easier for you to increase customer retention by incentivizing exchanges and store credit.

Let’s look at how returns automation works, and why smart ecommerce businesses are moving to automation in their returns process.

What are automated returns?

Automated returns refers to the process of using software to help you streamline and manage your returns process.

The majority of businesses start out with a manual returns process, in which they rely on customer support agents to intake and respond to return requests and set up return merchandise authorizations (RMA). Manual returns can often be slow, as customers may need to engage multiple times with customer support to determine if their item is return-eligible under your return policy, and to confirm the shipping and refund details for the returned item. And with manual returns, ecommerce businesses rarely offer alternatives to refunds — which means that once the customer ships the product back to your warehouse and receives their refund, you’re not likely to hear from them again.

In contrast, an automated returns process facilitates a streamlined and efficient path to processing returns that doesn’t drain your customer support resources. By using automation to set rules for which products are eligible to be returned, your customers will be able to input their requests into a return portal to initiate their own RMA, with no need for customer support involvement.

Key benefits of returns automation

Why is it worth moving to an automated platform for returns management? There are many benefits for both your customers and your team.

  • Reduce customer support demands with a streamlined returns portal
    Cut down on your customer support tickets related to ecommerce returns by enabling customers to initiate their own returns with no outside assistance. Customer support automation for product returns can free up your customer support team to focus on higher-priority support tickets, while streamlining and expediting the returns experience for your customers.

  • Enhance the customer experience with guided recommendations
    Your return portal can include multiple choice questions where customers can select their return reasons, enabling your ecommerce store to offer relevant alternatives for an exchange. For example, if the customer is returning a pair of boots that are a size too big, your return portal can display the same boots in a size smaller as a recommended item for an exchange. Or, if the customer didn’t like the item at all, your return portal can display several popular boot recommendations from your ecommerce store, enabling your customer to swap out one product for another. If there is a difference in price, they can be credited or debited for the difference, with no need to make another transaction. In either case, once the customer has initiated the return, they can receive instant access to their store credit to use towards an alternative product, making it far more likely that they will remain loyal to your brand.

  • Save money on reverse logistics with custom workflows
    Reverse logistics for ecommerce returns can be expensive, often costing up to 66% of the cost of the original item. And often, it’s all for nothing, as a huge number of returns end up as landfill waste: around 9.5 billion pounds of returned products ended up in landfills last year. By using automation to determine whether an item is cost-effective to ship back to your warehouse, you can greatly reduce these expenses and your brand’s environmental impact. If an item is unlikely to be resold at a profit, your returns management solution can credit the customer for their returned product while letting them keep the item, or route it to a recycling plant or donation center.

  • Get business insights from your returns data
    Using returns management software will make it easy to get an overview of your returns data, so you know which products have been returned and why, with real-time tracking of returns in progress to help you facilitate better inventory management. By getting insights into which products are being returned most often and why, you’ll be able to optimize your product pages and descriptions to ensure that customers know what to expect, helping you to reduce your return rate going forward.

  • Build a seamless experience with customized return options
    When asking customers to return items, you can give them the choice of self-service packing and mailing back the item with a printable shipping label, or taking the item to a nearby drop-off location for packing and shipping. Deliver customer satisfaction by ensuring that customers have access to the return shipping method they prefer.

The bottom line

As an ecommerce business, ensuring that you have the right technology in place to optimize your operations is crucial for staying ahead of your competitors. By using returns management software to help you automate the returns process, you’ll be able to improve the customer experience to increase retention; reduce manual work (and associated human error) to reduce labor costs; and gain access to returns data that will help you improve your product pages and reduce your return rate.

For growing ecommerce businesses, access to a returns management system can unlock new operational efficiencies that will help you lower your costs and increase your customer retention rates. Make the move to automated returns to help you build a profitable and sustainable business.

Want to learn how to automate your returns? Schedule a demo of Loop today.